UB students and faculty urge The Commons to stop using Styrofoam


Every year Earth week comes with new initiatives to reduce humans’ footprints on the planet and protect it for future generations.

UB students, faculty and staff have come together to reduce their collective footprint, this time by urging The Commons to stop using Styrofoam.

Vendors in The Commons still use polystyrene foam while UB has already phased out its use in food service areas. Since The Commons falls outside of UB’s jurisdiction as privately managed property, they are not required to stop their use of the material. The issue has also garnered the attention of those outside of UB because it’s an unrecyclable pollutant.

“We mounted this grass roots campaign to let [the vendors] know we’d like them to make these changes,” said Domenic J. Licata, chair of the Professional Staff Senate. “Styrofoam is a pretty big issue, I went to Portland where it’s been banned and the conservation effort out there is overwhelming.”

This is a collaborative effort between the UB Student Environment Network, the Professional Staff Senate and the Faculty Senate.

The effort is pushing vendors to move away from single-use expanded polystyrene foam containers.

We’re trying to do our best to switch over,” said Joe Korey, owner and manager of Rachel’s Mediterranean. “So far the steps I've taken on trying to step away from foam, we've added recyclable plates, we did look into paper products, but it was triple the price and [patrons] were still going to throw it out anyway.”

The UB Professional Staff Senate has put out flyers that point out the vendors that are using the Styrofoam material and those that aren’t.

The vendors are divided into two lists: red and green. The green list has vendors that use the expanded polystyrene containers and the red list has vendors using single-use materials.

“Three vendors on the red list have shown interest and we connected them with Johnston Paper, who gave them customized requests,” Licata said. “While nothing has come of it yet, there are rumors that are saying they will move to paper products.”

Currently, there are seven vendors on the red list and three on the green list, but Licata said some vendors have taken steps toward making a change.

We wanted to organize mass requests for these plates so we're not taking such a big hit,” Korey said. “We wanted to set up a recycling system, but it's impossible to get some oils off paper plates. It's about adding significant amount of the ceramic plates that can be provided if asked by any individuals that want to do their part.”

Korey said he’s instated a “no nonsense” recycling policy for his employees. The coalition hopes that this initiative will urge vendors to use containers that are safer for both the consumers and the planet.

According to the UB Professional Staff Senate, this follows a trend of other municipalities around the country, not only eliminating use of the material, but outright banning it.

“It’ll definitely cost more money, which is probably why they haven’t made the change yet,” said Fevyon Yeung, general manager of Kung Fu Tea. “It should be a collective effort [between the vendors]. ”

While it is easier said than done to make a shift towards more sustainable operations in The Commons, it seems like shared ideas haven’t made it across the aisle.

Licata, like Korey, said a collective ordering system might be best for the vendors.

“[Collective ordering] is something we’ve considered, we haven’t met with them because they haven’t shown interest, since each vendor is privately-owned,” Licata said. “It might be difficult to get each vendor on board, but I believe Johnston Paper would entertain the idea, the vendors could definitely see some cost-savings.”

UB Professional Staff Senate plans on holding meetings with vendors collectively once the Senate finishes their flyer campaign, which they are three-quarters of the way done with.

Still in the midst of Earth week, the coalition of students, faculty and staff hope to use the current momentum to encourage change in The Commons.

Kenneth Kashif Thomas is the senior features editor and can be reached at kenneth.thomas@ubspectrum.com